Explore the Golden State: 14+ Essential Things to Do in California

Collage of Things to Do in California, Including Seeing Redwoods in Muir Woods and Restaurants on Newport Avenue in San Diego

Ready to explore California? From breathtaking coastal drives along Highway 1 to exploring the iconic landmarks of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California offers endless activities to suit every traveler's taste. Dive into the rich cultural tapestry of vibrant cities, sample world-class cuisine in trendy eateries, or embark on outdoor adventures in stunning national parks. Whether you're seeking thrilling amusement parks, California's best beaches, or picturesque vineyards, the Golden State has a broader range of things to do than just about any other state in the country.

Major Attractions of California

  • California is a place of contrasts, with natural wonders ranging from ancient redwoods and desert landscapes to iconic sandy stretches like Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.
  • The state’s vibrant cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the historical Sacramento, offer unique attractions, rich culture, and history.
  • Outdoor adventurers can explore national parks like Yosemite and Death Valley, experience the arts and culinary scene, or seek thrills at world-famous theme parks like Disneyland.

Discovering the Diverse Landscapes of California

A symphony of contrasts, California’s landscapes range from the silent majesty of towering redwoods in Muir Woods to the allure of the arid Mojave Desert and the sun-kissed iconic Los Angeles County beaches. As you traverse through California, you become a part of the unique narrative that each landscape unfolds.

Marvel at the Redwood Giants in Muir Woods National Monument

In an ever-changing world, the ancient giants of Muir Woods National Monument stand as a testament to the enduring majesty of nature. Home to some of the world’s tallest trees, these coastal redwoods reach heights of over 250 feet and can live for over a millennium. The sight of these towering giants, their bark tinged a deep hue of red, their canopies filtering the sunlight into a soft, tranquil glow, is an experience that stays with you long after you’ve left the forest.

As you wander through the six miles of trails, you’ll find yourself immersed in a tranquil forest, the silence broken only by the rustle of leaves, the chirping of birds, and the distant babble of a brook. The main trail, the Muir Woods Boardwalk, is wheelchair accessible, ensuring that the magic of the forest is available to all.

One of the highlights of Muir Woods is Cathedral Grove. Here, the forest’s natural acoustics amplify the sounds of nature, creating a symphony of birdcalls, rustling leaves, and the soft, whispering breeze. For those seeking a serene escape or avid nature enthusiasts, Muir Woods National Monument promises an unforgettable experience.

Experience the Desert's Majesty at Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park in California

Step into Joshua Tree National Park—located primarily in Riverside County, approximately 130 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles—and you’ll feel a world away from California's lush forests and coastal vistas. This park encompasses parts of two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, each hosting unique biological communities.

As you explore, you’ll be greeted by:

  • Rugged rock formations
  • A stark desert landscape
  • The blazing sun
  • The endless blue sky

The park’s namesake, the Joshua tree, symbolizes the Mojave Desert’s unique beauty. These distinctive yucca plants stretch towards the sky, their spiky leaves silhouetted against the desert sky. Whether you’re witnessing them bathed in the soft glow of the sunrise or standing stark against a backdrop of a star-studded night, these trees add an otherworldly charm to the desert landscape.

Joshua Tree National Park presents a unique desert adventure, boasting stunning landscapes and unique flora.

Soak Up the Sun at Iconic Southern California Beaches

If you’re visiting or moving to California, beaches are likely part of the appeal. California’s coastline is a paradise for beach lovers, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Southern California. Here, iconic beaches like Huntington Beach and Newport Beach offer a quintessential California beach experience, complete with sun, surf, and sand.

Huntington Beach, internationally recognized as Surf City USA, is celebrated for its prominent surf culture. With a 10-mile stretch of coastline featuring a variety of surf breaks, it caters to surfers at every level of expertise. The beach hosts the US Open of Surfing every year, a significant surfing competition that draws global attendance from surf enthusiasts. The vibrant Downtown Huntington Beach area is directly adjacent to its namesake beach, further enhancing a day spent here.

On the other hand, Newport Beach offers a different but equally enchanting beach experience. Here, a 10-mile coastline beckons sunbathers and swimmers alike. The luxurious Corona del Mar neighborhood is known for its scenic beaches and tide pools, making it a great spot for a leisurely day by the sea.

A Journey Through California's Iconic Cities

As fascinating as California’s natural wonders are, the state’s cities are equally enchanting. Offering an eclectic mix of history, culture, and modernity, each city boasts unique attractions and experiences worth visiting.

Feel the Pulse of Los Angeles

Griffith Observatory Overlooking Downtown Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles, the City of Angels, is a city that vibrates with energy. Home to Hollywood, it’s a city where dreams come to life and stars are born. But there’s more to Los Angeles than just the glitz and glamour of the silver screen. From the iconic Hollywood sign to the sun-soaked beaches, there’s an endless lineup of fun things to do in Los Angeles, including:

  • The Hollywood sign
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Griffith Observatory
  • The Getty Center
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Venice Beach
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

There’s something for everyone in the City of Angels, even including some of the best golf courses in California.

One of the landmarks that you can’t afford to miss is the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Known for its remarkable architecture and acoustics, this concert hall, designed by Frank Gehry, is a treat for both the eyes and the ears. Whether you’re there to enjoy a concert or simply admire the architecture, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is sure to leave you in awe.

Art lovers should also make a beeline for the Getty Center, home to an extensive art collection in one of the most scenic and expensive neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Here, you can spend hours exploring the artwork or just sit back and appreciate the panoramic views of the city of Los Angeles from this perch in the Brentwood neighborhood. For a more modern art experience, head over to The Broad, a museum founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, which offers free admission and houses a collection of contemporary masterpieces.

No visit to Los Angeles would be complete without experiencing the unique atmosphere of Venice Beach Boardwalk. Renowned for its street performers, lively spirit, relaxing beach, funky boutiques, and people-watching, it’s a place where you can truly immerse yourself in the city's vibrant culture.

Regardless of whether your interests lie in art, music, beach fun, or a little of everything, Los Angeles promises a captivating experience.

The Charms of San Francisco

San Francisco, with its iconic cable cars, steep hills, and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, is a city that captivates the heart. The only city as important to the California economy as Los Angeles, its vibrant cultural scene, historic landmarks, and diverse neighborhoods make it a must-visit destination in Northern California.

The Golden Gate Bridge, an internationally recognized symbol of the city, is a marvel of engineering and design. Walking across the bridge allows pedestrians to experience panoramic views of the bay, the city skyline, and the Pacific Ocean. Whether you’re catching a sunrise, sunset, or simply admiring the bridge’s brilliant orange hue against the blue sky, visiting the Golden Gate Bridge is an experience you won’t forget.

Another must-visit spot in the city is Pier 39. Offering a vibrant atmosphere with various shopping, dining, and entertainment options, Pier 39 is a place where you can indulge in delicious seafood, shop for souvenirs, or enjoy live performances. And don’t forget to check out the playful sea lions that have made the docks their home!

With everything from the lively Fisherman’s Wharf to the tranquil beauty of the Golden Gate Park, San Francisco has something to offer everyone. It’s time to plan your San Francisco adventure!

Uncover the Rich History of Sacramento

Sacramento, California’s capital city, is a treasure trove of history. From its pivotal role in the Gold Rush to its evolution into a bustling modern city, Sacramento is a place where the past and present coexist in perfect harmony.

One of the must-see attractions in the city is the California State Railroad Museum. Offering a glimpse into the city’s rich history and its crucial role in the Transcontinental Railroad, this museum is a must-visit for history buffs. 

Another historical landmark worth visiting is Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. As the last original remnant of the 19th-century fort built by John Sutter, it played a pivotal part in the California Gold Rush and the broader Sacramento history. Walking through the fort, you can almost hear the whispers of the past echoing through its halls, telling tales of a bygone era.

Adventures in California's National Parks

Beyond its cities, California’s national parks beckon the adventurous at heart. From the towering cliffs of Yosemite to the sparkling waters of Emerald Bay and the stark beauty of Death Valley, each park offers a unique blend of awe-inspiring landscapes and thrilling activities.

Conquer the Trails of Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park in California, Showing the Half-Dome

With its granite cliffs, towering waterfalls, and tranquil meadows, Yosemite National Park is a paradise for nature lovers and adventurers alike. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a casual nature enthusiast, the park’s diverse landscapes offer many exploration opportunities.

The park offers over 800 miles of trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging wilderness treks. The Mist Trail, one of the park’s most popular hikes, leads you to the stunning Vernal and Nevada Falls, offering breathtaking views.

For the more adventurous, the Half Dome hike—considered one of the best hikes in California—offers a challenging trek and an iconic Yosemite experience. However, remember that this hike requires a permit and is not for the faint-hearted. The trail culminates at Glacier Point, a viewpoint offering breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra.

Boasting stunning landscapes, a variety of hiking trails, and unique geological features, a visit to Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park promises unforgettable memories.

Emerald Bay State Park: A Gem in Lake Tahoe

While the top lakes near Los Angeles have much to offer, they simply can’t compete with the Lake Tahoe region. Emerald Bay State Park is a gem worth exploring in the heart of Lake Tahoe. Renowned for its picturesque landscape and panoramic views of the lake, the park is a haven for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Whether you’re looking to relax by the water or get your adrenaline pumping with some water sports, Emerald Bay has something for everyone. Kayaking through the crystal-clear waters offers a unique perspective of the bay, letting you take in its beauty up close.

The park offers plenty of hiking opportunities for those who prefer staying on land. As you traverse the scenic terrain, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.

A visit to Emerald Bay State Park transcends a typical day out in nature and presents an opportunity to immerse yourself in Lake Tahoe’s stunning beauty.

Death Valley Exploration

Venture into Death Valley, and you’re stepping into a landscape that’s as beautiful as it is harsh. As the largest national park in the contiguous United States, Death Valley showcases a diverse rock record, revealing a spectrum of geological history. Be mindful of its location, however: if you’re driving from Los Angeles, it’s more than 200 miles to Death Valley.

Among the park’s iconic sites is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Here, at 282 feet below sea level, a temporary lake forms after heavy rainstorms, creating a stark contrast against the surrounding desert landscape.

Other notable geological wonders include the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the Ubehebe Crater, and the panoramic vistas from Dante’s View. Each of these sites offers a unique window into the geological forces that have shaped Death Valley over millions of years.

California's Coastal Wonders

California’s Central Coast is a showcase of the state’s stunning natural beauty. From the rugged cliffs of Big Sur to the serene beaches of Santa Barbara, the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most scenic drives in the world, takes you on a journey through some of the state’s most breathtaking coastal landscapes. On the Pacific Coast Highway, you can experience bioluminescent waves in Southern California before heading up the coast to Carmel-by-the-Sea and the 17-Mile Drive.

Cruise the Scenic 17-Mile Drive

The 17-Mile Drive offers:

  • Picturesque route through Del Monte Forest
  • Stunning coastal views
  • Verdant forests
  • Iconic landmarks, including the Lone Cypress

Stop by Point Joe and Ghost Trees at Pescadero Point for panoramic vistas and the eeriness of nature-sculpted landscapes. These points of interest provide the perfect backdrop for unforgettable photos.

Further along the drive, you’ll find spots like Spanish Bay, with its picturesque boardwalk, and Fanshell Beach, known for its white sand. Also, don’t miss the chance to visit Crocker Grove, which shelters the venerable Monterey Cypress trees.

The 17-Mile Drive caters to nature enthusiasts, photography lovers, and those seeking a leisurely drive. It presents a unique opportunity to explore California’s breathtaking coastline. So, why not get in your car, let the windows down, and let the fresh ocean breeze guide your unforgettable journey? 

Stroll Through the Quaint Streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea

Ribera Beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

A visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea feels like stepping into a charming European village. With its quaint cottages, cobblestone streets, and art galleries, this seaside town is a slice of paradise on the California coast.

Carmel-by-the-Sea has been a haven for artists, with nearly 100 art galleries showcasing diverse works of art, from local artists to world-renowned masters. As you stroll through the town, you’ll find art at every turn, from the vibrant murals adorning the walls to the exquisite sculptures gracing the public spaces.

Ocean Avenue, the town’s main street, is an elegant boulevard lined with boutique shops, specialty stores, and gourmet eateries. Ocean Avenue is the place to be whether you’re looking to indulge in some retail therapy, enjoy a gourmet meal, or simply soak in the town’s charming atmosphere.

No visit to Carmel-by-the-Sea would be complete without a trip to the beach. The white sandy Carmel Beach, framed by native Monterey Cypress trees, offers postcard-worthy views of the town’s coastal allure.

Savor the Flavors of California

California’s culinary scene is as diverse as its landscapes. From the world-renowned wineries of Napa Valley to the bustling farmers markets of San Francisco, the state offers a feast of flavors for food lovers.

Indulge in Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

Napa Valley Welcome Sign in California

Napa Valley, often referred to as the heart of California’s wine country, is a destination that’s sure to delight wine lovers. With its rolling vineyards, quaint wineries, and world-class wines, it’s a place where you can indulge your taste buds and deepen your appreciation for fine wine.

The valley is home to over 400 wineries, each offering unique experiences that go beyond the typical wine tasting. From ATV vineyard tours and horseback riding through the grapevines to hands-on winemaking experiences, Napa Valley offers a variety of ways to explore the world of wine.

Educational tours at establishments like the Hess Persson Estates and Raymond Vineyards delve into Biodynamic farming practices and explore how natural elements affect the winemaking process. These tours offer a unique opportunity to learn about the craft of winemaking in a hands-on and engaging way.

Taste the Freshness at San Francisco's Farmers Markets

San Francisco’s thriving farmers markets are a food lover’s paradise. With their vast selection of fresh produce, artisanal goods, and local products, they offer a taste of California’s rich agricultural bounty.

One of the city’s most celebrated markets is the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Operating three times a week, this market features over 100 regional vendors selling everything from fresh seasonal produce and artisan cheeses to high-quality prepared foods.

The Alemany Farmers Market, San Francisco’s oldest farmers market, is another must-visit spot. Every Saturday, the market comes alive with a vast variety of fresh produce and ethnic foods, all sold at affordable prices.

And let’s not forget the Heart of the City Farmers Market at Fulton Plaza. This market offers a rich assortment of fruits, vegetables, and farm products sourced from small regional farmers and local businesses. San Francisco’s farmers markets offer a feast for the senses for dedicated foodies and health-conscious shoppers alike.

Thrills and Fun at California's Theme Parks

Aerial View of Disneyland Resort in California

If you’re looking for thrills and fun, California’s theme parks are the place to be. Offering a mix of heart-pounding rides, enchanting attractions, and unforgettable experiences, these parks—which are predominantly clustered near the city of Los Angeles—are a dream come true for thrill-seekers and fun-lovers of all ages. Some of the top theme parks in California include:

  • Disneyland Resort
  • Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Six Flags Magic Mountain
  • Knott’s Berry Farm
  • Legoland California

Let’s explore the thrilling world of California’s theme parks.

Disneyland Resort, the original theme park designed by Walt Disney himself in the Anaheim area, is a place where fairytale dreams come true. With its various lands and attractions, from the enchanting Sleeping Beauty Castle to the thrilling Space Mountain ride, Disneyland offers a magical experience that’s sure to bring out the child in everyone.

For those in search of high-speed thrills, Six Flags Magic Mountain is the place to be. Boasting some of the fastest, tallest, and most innovative roller coasters in the world, it’s a playground for adrenaline junkies in the city of Santa Clarita. Whether you’re game for a heart-stopping drop from dizzying heights or a high-speed spin through twisty loops, Six Flags has a ride for you. Alternately, Knott’s Berry Farm is a must-visit theme park in the Buena Park community in Orange County.

LEGOLAND California combines the creativity of LEGO with the excitement of rides, making it a perfect destination for a fun day out. And let’s not forget Universal Studios Hollywood, located in the Universal City area of Los Angeles, where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at movie making and enjoy rides and shows based on blockbuster movies.

Whether you’re a thrill-seeker, a movie buff, or a kid at heart, California’s theme parks offer an unforgettable adventure. Pack your bags, secure your tickets, and prepare for a day filled with thrills, laughter, and fun.

Endless Can’t-Miss Things to Do in California

From its diverse landscapes and iconic cities to its vibrant arts scene, thrilling theme parks, and delectable culinary offerings, California offers a wealth of experiences that cater to every taste and interest. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, a food lover, or looking for things to do with kids, the Golden State has something to satisfy your wanderlust. So why wait? Start planning your California adventure today, and get ready to create memories that will last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most scenic place to visit in California?

The most scenic place to visit in California is a subjective choice, but some popular options are Redwood National Park, Sonoma Wine Country, and Yosemite National Park.

What are some must-visit natural attractions in California?

You should definitely check out the Redwood Giants in Muir Woods National Monument, Joshua Tree National Park, Yosemite National Park, and the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway. These natural attractions in California are absolutely worth a visit!

What are the iconic cities to explore in California?

You should explore Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento in California for unique attractions, history, and cultural experiences. Enjoy your visit!

Want to live in California? Call The Brad Korb Real Estate Group with LA Homes at (818) 953-5300 to find your dream home.

Post a Comment